Discreet Cat tries to bring back buzz

ELMONT, N.Y. -- As the calendar turned from 2006 to 2007, there was no horse in training whose return to the races was more anticipated than Discreet Cat.

Though he hadn't played on the grand stage of the Triple Crown or the Breeders' Cup as a 3-year-old last year, what Discreet Cat did in three races from Aug. 25 to Nov. 25 had the Thoroughbred world buzzing.

The buzz was muted when Discreet Cat hardly lifted a hoof in his showdown with Horse of the Year Invasor and finished last, beaten 23 lengths, while suffering his first career defeat in the $6 million Dubai World Cup at Nad Al Sheba on March 31.

The following day it was announced that Discreet Cat had a mass of inflamed tissue in his throat plus swelling of the underlying throat wall. It took longer than expected for the issue to be resolved. And it's taken longer still for Discreet Cat to make it back to the races.

Sunday, Discreet Cat comes out of hibernation in a most ambitious spot, the Grade 1, $400,000 Vosburgh Stakes at six furlongs. The Vosburgh is one of four Grade 1 events that Belmont Park will host Sunday, with all of them carrying automatic berths to select Breeders' Cup races as part of the "Win and You're In" initiative.

Discreet Cat, a son of Forestry, will meet a very talented -- and fast -- group of sprinters in the Vosburgh, including Fabulous Strike, First Defence, Mach Ride, Teuflesberg, and Talent Search.

"It's not the ideal spot with your comeback race getting this close to the Breeders' Cup," said Rick Mettee, the assistant trainer who oversees Godolphin's New York outfit. "But it is important for this horse to establish himself as a good horse again, and the Vosburgh is still an important race."

Discreet Cat's appearance in the Vosburgh does not necessarily mean he is being pointed to the $2 million Breeders' Cup Sprint at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27. The Breeders' Cup also has a new $1 million Dirt Mile race run on Oct. 26. While the Dirt Mile - actually run at a mile and 70 yards -- is not a graded race, it would gain instant credibility should Discreet Cat run in it.

It was Discreet Cat's performance in last year's Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct that stamped him as a superstar in many observers' eyes. Yes, Discreet Cat had won his previous five starts, including the UAE Derby against a then-unheralded Invasor. But he did things against older horses in the Cigar Mile that only a special 3-year-old can do.

In a race in which he was giving weight to defending sprint champion and Metropolitan Handicap winner Silver Train and multiple stakes winner Badge of Silver, Discreet Cat dueled through fractions of 44.83 seconds and 1:07.75. When jockey Garrett Gomez asked him to run, Discreet Cat ran away and hid, covering the mile in 1:32.46. The final time equaled Aqueduct's track record of 1:32 2/5, set by Easy Goer in the 1989 Gotham.

"That race just took your breath away," Mettee said. "When you look on the board and see 1:32 and 2 ... I know the track was fast that day, but 1:32 and 2 was fast."

Gomez, who rode Discreet Cat to three victories last year and who will be back aboard on Sunday, was equally impressed.

"[Silver Train] won the Met Mile and Breeders' Cup Sprint and [Discreet Cat] was giving him weight," Gomez said. "To have him do that as a 3-year-old and run as fast as they did was pretty special."

The win in the Cigar Mile was his third straight victory. That August at Saratoga, off a five-month layoff, Discreet Cat won a third-level allowance race by 11 lengths while running seven furlongs in 1:21.53. He then crushed four 3-year-olds by 10 1/4 lengths in the Grade 2 Jerome in October.

Following his Dubai debacle this past spring, Discreet Cat didn't return to the U.S. until May 19. He walked for six weeks before jogging for most of the month of July. It wasn't until August that Discreet Cat really began serious training.

"Basically we started back with him from scratch," Mettee said.

Discreet Cat returned to the work tab on Aug. 27 and will have five published works leading up to the Vosburgh. Mettee said he was hoping to have Discreet Cat ready for the Forego earlier this month at seven furlongs, but ultimately settled on the Vosburgh.

"There's some apprehension coming off a race in which you were virtually eased," Mettee said. "I know this isn't the easiest comeback spot, but we wouldn't put the horse in here if he wasn't 100 percent doing well. If we weren't happy with his breezes, we'd scrap all this and come up with a different game plan."

Though Gomez knows it's a tall task for Discreet Cat to return off a six-month layoff in a race like the Vosburgh, he believes the horse is capable of pulling it off successfully.

"He was the most talented horse I sat on last year," Gomez said. "Hopefully, he'll come back to that and get all those juices flowing again for everybody."